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Employee Engagement

How to Create Authentic Connections (Even While Working Apart) [Webinar Recap]

Companies are doing a great job adjusting to the new “normal” that is remote work. But there's still a big piece of our old work environment that's missing: authentic connections with our teammates, managers and leaders. Those moments of connection - whether it’s dishing about your weekend plans at the kitchen coffee pot or having that extra five minutes to debrief after a difficult meeting - ultimately shape our employer affinity, our intrinsic motivation to perform, and our overall morale. 

So what can we do to make sure they still happen while we’re working apart?

To answer this question, we hosted a webinar with Bravely, Donut and a panel of HR leaders for a discussion around the power of forming meaningful employee connections while working remotely (or in socially distanced offices). Our panelists included:

  • Hakemia Jackson, Executive Coach at Bravely
  • Shannon Ferguson, our own Head of People at Blueboard
  • Dan Manian, CEO and Co-Founder at Donut
  • Morgan Chaney, our own Senior Director of Marketing and Employer Branding Lead at Blueboard

You can also grab a copy of our slide deck online here.

For more HR webinars, continue to stay in touch via our Resources page, and continue showing those who’ve gone above and beyond that their hard work is valued with Lift Up, our free recognition note builder.


Why authentic connections matter 

Now that we’ve been living with this “new normal” for several months, people are slowly but surely learning how to be productive while working from home. Unfortunately, on the flip side, we’re also seeing increased loneliness and isolation amongst employees. This means that companies need to start getting more intentional about creating connections. 

But why is it so critical to build authentic connections in the first place? If you take a look at the research, it shows the impact - on both an individual and organizational level - that connection has in the workplace: 


Fresh ideas to inspire connection and belonging

The panelists shared their top recommendations to cultivate more connection amongst remote employees. We were excited to see that our webinar attendees also had tons of tips to share in the live chat, so you’ll see a lot of their ideas highlighted below!

1. Introduce a mentorship program

A mentorship program is a great way to facilitate one-on-one relationships between rising and seasoned leaders. We’re in the process of running our own mentorship program at Blueboard, and based on the success so far, will be scaling out to the entire organization later this year. Not only does mentorship help employees progress toward their goals and develop career building skills, but it’s also a great way to build a sense of belonging and connection across new Blueboarders - even while we’re physically apart.

Tips: 

  • Don’t be intimidated. A mentorship program doesn’t need to be super formal, which can feel intimidating to participants. All you need to do is provide a little bit of structure, but otherwise keep it low pressure. In the beginning, make sure pairs have a guide for the first few sessions to ensure a strong foundation. From there, let the mentors and mentees take their conversations in any direction they choose - whether that’s discussing personal development goals or connecting over recent experiences.
  • Be thoughtful about pairings. Instead of randomly assigning mentors and mentees to each other, take specific criteria into consideration. This can be anything from career goals to personal interests. If you’re interested in incorporating personality assessments into the matching process, our panelists suggested tools like the Enneagram, Myers-Briggs or CliftonStrengths.

Ideas from our attendees:

  • “We have an onboarding mentorship program, which has been crucial during shut down. One of the things we ask mentors to do is to introduce their mentee new hire to a network of colleagues.” - Martha
  • “Having Onboarding Buddies or Onboarding Mentors works really well in helping new staff get connected in this socially distanced environment we're in. It's shorter term than mentoring, but long enough to help a newbie get acclimated, have a ‘go-to’ person whom they can ask questions without fear of being judged, and to help them navigate the organization.” - Pamela
  • “We dropped the word ‘mentors’ and now call our program Dialogue Partners - we noticed employees were more likely to participate.” - Chelsea

2. Utilize asynchronous tools 

If your company has multiple office locations, it’s important to recognize that not everyone can be in the same virtual room at the same time - especially now, when managing our schedules is trickier than usual. Our panelists recommended being mindful of these differences and, where possible, taking advantage of the tools that let our workforce have asynchronous interactions. 

Tips: 

  • Make your timing inclusive. One of Blueboard’s offices is in Europe. To celebrate a recent accomplishment from this office, we hosted a happy hour for the team there and a simultaneous breakfast club time for our U.S. offices! This meant our European employees were able to indulge in beers and shish kabobs as they winded down their day, while our U.S. employees enjoyed eggs and coffee. It was a great, cross-cultural way to experience a meal together. 
  • Have celebrations last longer. Our panelists also recommended using Slack to cultivate connections by having conversations and celebrations that last over a 24-hour cycle. By doing this, you can be mindful of time zone differences and make sure that nobody on the team gets left out of meaningful interactions.

Ideas from our attendees:

  • “Our execs send out a Monday morning video with all of the updates - business and fun that we all want to know.” - Beth

3. Uplevel your Zoom meetings

Zoom meetings can get boring - fast. Using a platform like Donut is a great way to jazz up the experience. It automatically connects employees for informal get togethers and encourages creativity through authentic connections.

Tips: 

  • Explore. Donut allows a lot of room for exploration! Try increasing the cadence of these sessions or experiment with different group sizes. While not everything you try will work, it gives you the chance to experiment and see what arrangement leads to the most engaging, insightful connections. 
  • Do something a little different. Meetings don’t have to follow a strict format. Here are a few ideas that your employees can have fun with in their next Zoom meeting: learning a TikTok dance, doing a Walk ‘n’ Talk (in person with masks OR on the phone in separate locations), playing a game, cooking and eating a meal together or starting a book club

Recommended reading from our attendees:

4. Encourage learning in action

This is a great time to lean into learning opportunities. For instance, at Donut, they rolled out a DEI program where the whole company focuses on a different learning topic every week. Afterward, they use Donut to split up into trios for a 30-minute discussion. This drives connection by encouraging the group to learn about a topic that’s important to their values.

Tips:

  • Encourage direct employee participation. Instead of having the HR team or leadership team decide the learning topic each week, allow employees to participate in the experience! Whether it’s choosing the topic or the type of content (article, podcast, YouTube video) to discuss, get them engaged in the process.

Ideas from our attendees:

  • “My personal favorite Donut DEI prompt was about the concept of ‘lending privilege’ — we watched a video, shared some examples of how we’d plan to lend privilege, and had a discussion.” - Alex
  • “We have resource dialogues every other week...so far we’ve covered the documentary 13th, Hello Privilege, It's Me, Chelsea, and a Washington Post article on Two Different Americas.” - Deja

5. Connect off camera

We’re all missing those watercooler conversations from the office. While we’re trying to overcome these feelings of disconnectedness by participating in more video calls, there are times when we feel Zoom fatigue and just need a break. In moments like this, our panelists encouraged people to find ways to connect off camera instead.

Tips

  • Post a daily prompt. An easy way to encourage connection is to post a fun daily prompt to stir up conversation over Slack. For example, asking “what’s the most beautiful place you’ve ever been?” can lead to some awesome photos and conversations. Plus, it gives employees the space to engage as they like - whether they want to share content or more passively react to other people’s posts. 
  • Consider recognition and rewards that are ripe for sharing online. At Blueboard, what we love most about our experiential rewards is that they’re fun and exciting to share online (unlike cash rewards, that often fall quiet). If you’re considering ways to motivate and celebrate the great work of your teams, we’d love to connect - simply book your best time for a short online demo here with our team.

Ideas from our attendees:

  • “The best thing I did on Zoom was to turn the self view off. It’s unnatural to look at your own face in meetings and 1:1s all day long! That way you can really focus on the other people or the topic of the meeting.” - Lia 

6. Implement coaching questions

Another great way to strengthen or build connections with others is by implementing coaching questions in your conversations. These can happen during meetings, one-on-one sessions or during mentorship and mentee conversations. To help, our friends at Bravely shared some examples of coaching that your leaders can ask their team members.

Tips

  • Which talent or strength do you possess that has the most natural connection to your goal and/or team goal? You can help guide your team member through this exercise in aiming his/her strengths by asking how his natural patterns of thinking, feeling and behavior might connect to the task or goal. Many times, managers are too quick to assume and lead employees down a path that isn’t as fruitful.
  • What is the specific task or goal that feels unmanageable or unreachable? When you ask your team member to clarify and use concrete words or identify specific tasks that feel unmanageable, you’ll help them dig underneath the strong emotional reaction and identify the trigger or source. The team members are able to identify specific goals that cause them anxiety.
  • What helps you feel connected to others and counteract the potential loneliness of working remotely? It’s time to stop complicating connection and simply ask. This question not only helps build rapport and trust overtime, but it’ll also tell you exactly what your employees need during this time to feel like they belong. 

With these ideas, you can cultivate authentic connections amongst your employees - even while everyone is working remotely. If you’re interested in learning how a personalized recognition program can further strengthen connections in the workplace, we’d love to connect 1:1 with you - just request a meeting online here

Stay tuned for more valuable webinars and upcoming events here on our Resources page - stay well, and we can’t wait to see you again online.

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